Movement seeks ‘radical vision’ for digital age

Co-operatives UK is seeking comments and debate on a radical vision of how the co-operative sector can expand into the 21st century.

A discussion document, Co-operation in the age of Google, has been written by Robin Murray — a key thinker behind Fairtrade and Twin Trading — and is open for comment until February 12th.

It discusses the information and communication revolution, widespread concerns about private sector greed and public sector finances and says that impending climate chaos present a wide range of possibilities for co-operative expansion. 

But Mr Murray says the Movement is not yet in a position to make the most of these opportunities. It needs to be more innovative, more integrated, more internationalist, to get better infrastructure for developing the sector and to find ‘the idea’ that can mobilise support for co-operation.

The review proposes a series of initiatives for 2011 and 2012 to strengthen the sector. It suggests the Movement could come together through a knowledge hub and educational programmes. And that a specialist web unit would help promote online services for existing co-ops and help to set up web-based co-ops.

Said Mr Murray: “To make the most of the possibilities, the Co-operative Movement will need to strengthen its capacity to act as a movement, and in particular to bring in changes that reflect the new socio-technical paradigm. 

“A primary task is to develop the central co-operative idea both in terms of its economic proposition and its democratic one.

“The Movement should shift its definition of co-ops from form to values, and should refocus its role in relation to the two dominant issues of the coming period: the growing environmental crisis and the reconstitution of the welfare state.

“It should then redesign its educational, intelligence, financial, infrastructural and information systems both to strengthen individual co-ops and their integration.It should draw on the lessons of the social movements, not by abandoning its democratic structures but re-invigorating them with new forms of local organisation

“The central organisational issue is the gap between that half of the Movement organised through the Co-operative Group and the half which is fragmented and where many of the new opportunities are now opening up. The latter needs to have a much strengthened Co-operatives UK.”

Ed Mayo, Secretary General of Co-operatives UK, said: “The co-operative sector has a history of taking stock and moving forward through independent reviews and commissions. This report, a thorough going analysis from one of today's leading industrial economists, is a gift to co-operators across the UK.

“This is an independent report, and at times quite controversial, so we want to incorporate the views of our members before it goes further.”

• The document is open for comments from Co-operatives UK members along with alternative suggestions, improvements and counter-arguments. It can be accessed at

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